Living In Liminal Landscapes

January 19, 2023


You’re only given one little spark of madness.
You mustn’t lose it.
Robin Williams

Scheduling our monthly sweat lodges was a challenge. We were never sure if they were going to happen as planned and indeed the calendar was very fluid. It was a challenge for those of us participating in the year-long vision quest who had very full and tightly scheduled jobs and lives. Working with the shaman who lead these quests was my first experience with someone who lived most of her life a liminal landscape. It would be years before I would experience that unsettling reality for myself. 

And it is unsettling. I understand why shamans, mystics, and even artists choose to live on the edges of society. It’s where they can nurture their spark.

I’ve currently lost my husband to the liminality of his artwork. Oh, he’s here physically. But the rest of him is out there somewhere. I’m just glad his studio doesn’t have running water because I get to see him when he comes to the house to clean his brushes. For Dennis this is something of a sporadic occurrence. For a dear friend it’s how he lives his life.

I’ve included below a crop of a piece Tim gifted us a few years ago. It gives you a sense of the liminal language he has created. From the catalog for a recent retrospective of his work exhibited at the San Francisco Center for the Book, this was written about him.

American artist Timothy C. Ely has been drawing, painting, and constructing one-of-a-kind manuscript books for 50 years. At last count over 500 of these elaborately bound and illustrated visual narratives, housed in interactive sculptures known as books, have made their way into public, private, and secret collections worldwide, including the New York Public Library, Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, Library of Congress, Morgan Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

I was zooming with his wife last week. Ann has been a friend since childhood. Our families celebrated Thanksgiving together until we left for university. We were discussing Tim’s work and she acknowledged that he lives in a liminal landscape pretty much all the time. It is the landscape of his genius and he is indeed recognized both nationally and internationally as a genius.

Genius. Genius loci is the prevailing character, atmosphere or spirit of a place. This is very much the energy of Otherworld encounters I invite people to experience in Ireland. And in liminal landscapes those can include the human spirits that inhabit those mystical spaces. Human spirits like Tim. Human spirits like us if we are open to it. And if we do, we encounter a liminal language, perhaps not as dramatically artistic as Tim’s but absolutely a language of senses and symbols, sights and sounds. A language that holds profound messages and invites us to a dance of fluency with them, a dance with the genius loci of liminal landscapes.

We do hold the spark of madness for this. And we mustn’t lose it.


2 thoughts on “Living In Liminal Landscapes

  1. Well, this posting takes me places. I appreciate learning about genius. I like the image of the work of Tim, included. I’m guessing I’m there in the liminal place, not here, when often I find words to put together that normally don’t go together. I guess I generally think the natural and supernatural should intertwine because that it is the way things are since the beginning and in the everyday, somehow. The extraordinary experiences you write about that can be had in sweathouses and in Ireland are so much more to consider. Thanks for challenging us.

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